- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 27 (UPI) — The California Highway Patrol has agreed that its officers will no longer pull over drivers and ask to search their vehicles merely on a hunch they might be carrying drugs or some other contraband, it was announced Thursday.

The agreement is part of an out-of-court settlement of a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union that alleged the practice led to the types of unwarranted traffic stops of minority motorists that have become derisively known as "driving while black," or simply "DWB."

"It goes beyond a ban on racial profiling to prohibiting specific law enforcement techniques and practices that the ACLU believes have resulted in the widespread fear that 'Driving While Black or Brown' can be risky business in California," said Alan Schlosser, Legal Director of the ACLU in Northern California.

The settlement, which must be approved by a San Jose judge, includes the CHP's agreement to stop asking for so-called consent searches of vehicles and also to end the practice of using minor traffic offenses as a reason to stop and search a vehicle for drugs and other contraband.

The ACLU said the settlement makes the CHP the first police force in the nation to stop requests for consent searches.

The reforms could have a broad impact on law enforcement agencies throughout the state," the ACLU said in a statement.

The practice of turning a minor traffic infraction into a potentially lengthy roadside detention and search has been a complaint for years on the part of minority drivers who allege they are stopped merely because they are in the wrong neighborhood or were mistaken for gang members.

Although they do not have to consent to a search of their vehicle, critics say drivers can feel intimidated enough to grant permission to the officer as they stand along the shoulder of a busy freeway.

"The ACLU contended in its lawsuit that giving officers the discretion to seek consent when they did not have probable cause to search resulted in a disproportionate number of motorists of color being subjected to extensive searches, and was a critical component of racial profiling," the ACLU said in a statement.

Under the terms of the settlement, the CHP admitted no wrongdoing and agreed only to pay $875,000 in legal fees.

"Nothing during this three-year litigation established a pattern or practice of racial profiling by the CHP," noted CHP Commissioner Spike Helmick. "The CHP reaffirms its commitment to provide service to the public and treat people respectfully and fairly,"

The ACLU, however, stated that in the course of the lawsuit, they determined that, intended or not, Latinos were three times as likely to be searched by CHP officers than whites in the agency's Central and Coastal Divisions; African-Americans were approximately twice as likely to be searched in those divisions.

The ACLU said the situation was traced back to special "war on drugs" training that allegedly "encouraged stereotyping of Latino and African-American motorists as potential drug dealers and criminals, and resulted in a disproportionate number of black and brown motorists being subjected to prolonged detentions and intrusive and humiliating searches."

Helmick had ordered a moratorium on such searches in 2001.

"Commissioner Helmick and his top deputies convinced us that they recognized a problem and were committed to making significant changes to eradicate the egregious practice of racial profiling," ACLU attorney Jon Streeter said. "These guys rolled up their sleeves and sat down with us to discuss meaningful solutions."


(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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